While people slept, water gushed into their houses, disrupting their dreams and serving them the last breath of their lives.
Storm Daniel struck and in a matter of seconds, water engulfed the land, washing away people and anything in its path.
Many of those dead couldn’t get the chance to say goodbye, their cries for help as the deluge hurried them off into the sea could not be attended to.
Those who survived are being haunted by the traumatising thoughts of how to rebuild; stung by the stark reality of having lost most or all family members, jolted awake with despair, and awash with sadness and helplessness.
The one thing deemed as life, has sucked out life from thousands.
The smell of death wafted through the city as many lifeless bodies, not survivors, were recovered.
The recent flooding incident in Libya has exposed the country’s vulnerabilities.
According to experts, corruption, poor maintenance of public infrastructure and years of political infighting made the country unprepared to tackle Storm Daniel.
Libya is divided between two rival administrations. These two factions have fought several times since 2014, and the administrations failed to hold planned presidential elections in 2021.
A report from researchers at Omar Al-Mukhtar University warned that the two dams located uphill from Derna needed urgent attention, pointing out that there was “a high potential for flood risk”.
Yet no action was taken.
As such, Anas El Gomati, the founder and director of the Sadeq Institute, was right to say that the inaction of eastern authorities in Derna “despite the clear threat has cost many thousands of lives, when it could’ve cost cinder blocks and bags of cement.”
“Corruption and financial mismanagement are the cause behind failing infrastructure that has plagued Libya for decades, but the successive regimes are culpable, and it is the military investment authority that has cannibalised Libya’s public infrastructure in the east, destroying it to be smuggled and sold for scrap metal.”Anas El Gomati
Derna, where two dams collapsed, experienced the most damage from the inundation.
The city, already scarred by intensive bombardments and ferocious ground fighting, also suffers neglect of crucial infrastructure and its maintenance by leaders.
This warrants the “human disaster” tag given to the flood by Hani Shennib, President of the National Council on US-Libya Relations.
“This is not just a natural disaster, this is a human disaster as well as a result of the neglect of the city,” he added.
When leadership and people have failed in their responsibility to respond to early warning signs to curb such incidences, the ensuing disaster should be attributed to them and not deemed “natural.”
Floods, just like any other natural disaster, have costly repercussions, especially for countries that are financially developing, such as African countries.
This year alone, floods have killed over 2,200 people across Africa.
Floods formed by various causes, such as Cyclone Freddy, have plagued Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Cameroon.
Poor urban planning and development, poor drainage systems, neglect of infrastructure, environmental attitudes, coupled with climate change, are attributed causes of floods in Africa.
In Ghana, for instance, there is blatant disregard for environmental rules. Many indulge in indiscriminate disposal of solid waste, especially in gutters, while others build on watercourses.
These are immense contributors to the perennial flooding in Accra particularly.
Every year, Accra experiences series of flood during the rainy season. At least, past cases ought to have triggered some remedial measures by Government and other stakehoders.
However, authorities relax on their reins as soon as the rainy season is over.
With climate change fast on the world’s heels, it is all the more crucial to reinforce preventive measures against natural disasters.
Bolstering Defences Against Floods
There is an Akan adage which literally translates to “If you see your neighbour’s beard burning, fetch water by yours.”
It means one is supposed to learn from the experiences and circumstances of others.
As such, Libya’s situation should teach others, especially African countries, a lesson.
Appropriate measures to ensure preparedness to minimize the potential impact of flooding should be taken.
For instance, there should be strict enforcement of sanitation bye-laws; organized waste management should be practiced. Buildings should be constructed at the right places, with proper demarcation.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organization Chief, Petteri Taalas opined that many deaths could have been avoided if early warning and emergency management systems had functioned properly in Libya.
Taalas said that, with better coordination, “they could have issued the warnings and the emergency management forces would have been able to carry out the evacuation of the people, and we could have avoided most of the human casualties.”
To this, Disaster management agencies such as NADMO in Ghana should be prompt in risk identification and emergency response.
Addressing the flood crisis is not just about immediate relief but also about building resilience and putting measures in place for future occurrences.
Mind you, “it is better to prepare than to repair.”